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Thompson Chain Reference Bible ESV – Review

The Thompson Chain Reference system has been greatly improved in the ESV edition. 

The Thompson Chain Reference is one of the oldest study Bibles that’s still on the market today and now Kirkbride has released it in the popular ESV translation (2016 edition). It even has a few refinements to the Thompson Chain Reference system to improve it even further. It will be available in soft cover, hard cover, and bonded and genuine leather in both black and burgundy with and without thumb-index. In this review I’m looking at the softcover edition. I’ll look at the hard cover and leather editions in future reviews.

ISBN: 9780887076978

Kirkbride provided this Bible free for review. I was not required to give a positive review – only an honest review. My opinions are my own.


Buy from (includes some affiliate links)


Nest Learning


and many local Bible bookstores



This edition has a glued softcover (the other editions are sewn). It isn’t meant to be the Bible that someone would use for years, but it is a great tool for something you wouldn’t want to use as a primary Bible or to get started until you could get a leather edition. It’s a great choice for study on the go when you need a Bible that might get damaged or lost.

The size is 9 x 6.37 x 1.5″, which is standard for the regular size Thompson Chain Reference. I found it easy to hold for carry and reading. The paper is floppy but I had no trouble with it.


The paper is white and is a lot more opaque than my KJV edition. It does have a slight glare under direct light, but it isn’t bad. I can turn the pages easily.


The layout was developed digitally, which allowed them to place more on a page without the page while still maintaining readability.

The text is presented in double-column paragraph format with references in the inner and outer margins – creating four columns per page. Poetry is set in stanzas. Footnotes are placed at the bottom of the page under the text. The header includes the book name, chapter, and verse in the outer margin and page summaries in the inner margin. The footer shows the page number.

The text doesn’t have distracting reference or footnote keys within the text. This is something that I’ve always appreciated with the Thompson design. I read a lot and I don’t like having distractions within the text.

The font is 8 point with a nice leading, which helps makes the text highly readable. The black and red letter are a medium darkness and are easy to read. Both are highly consistent throughout.

It’s difficult to present poetry in columns this narrow but Kirkbride has done an impressive job. The poetic lines are broken up into manageable thoughts or where it keeps the line-width consistent. It looks much better than continuing the line to the end of the column and placing the rest under the line when the width would be mismatched. This does mean that several verses have two words per line, but it still looks better than having 3 and then 1.

The columns are 1 5/8” wide with 30-32 characters across with anywhere from 3-7 words per line. The words are spaced nicely and it never feels cramped. The verse numbers are superscript and easy to find. They’re also easy to ignore while reading. Section headings are in italics.

The New Testament has bold section headings in the margins. Some include references to parallel passages. Some of the margins have space for short notes. Books start on a new page, so there’s some space for notes. Just looking at it the page looks busy, but I don’t find the tools to be distracting and the text is clean.


There are over 100,000 chain references within the margins next to the verses they correspond to. They give the topic name and number followed by the next verse in the chain. They also include parallel passages and where something is quoted from. The margins also include possible dates of when events took place.

The references is one of the improvements of this edition. In the KJV there are a lot of verses in the back that are marked NM showing that they’re not in the margin. That doesn’t appear in the ESV. All of the topics now appear in the margin, however not all of them show the references. You’ll still need to go to the index for that. The chains are completed to include both OT and NT references. Topics now use consistent names.

Here are some examples to help you compare:

  • Genesis 1:1
    • PP Jn 1:3; Heb 1:10
    • 1672 Family Bible Readings, Ge 3:1-6
    • 884 Creator, 2:3
    • 1550 Heavens (1), 1 Chr 16:26
    • 1090 Earth, 8:22
  • Deuteronomy 6:4
    • 1185 Hearken
    • 2649 One God, 32:39
  • Isaiah 9:6
    • 1655 Births Foretold, Mt 1:21
    • 720 Incarnation, 11:1
    • 717 Christ’s Dominion, 9:7
  • Matthew 17:20
    • Conditions of Spiritual Power
    • 2182 Limitations
    • 4034 Spiritual Failure
    • 1219 Unbelief (1), Lu 1:20
    • 1204 Faith (4), 21:21
    • 2183 Human Supplies, 18:20
    • 2478 Mustard Seed, Mk 4:31
    • 1562 Obstacles Removed
    • 2880 Promises to Believers
    • 3803 Spiritual Power
  • Mark 11:23
    • 3751 Truly, Truly
    • PP Mt 21:21; Lu 17:6
    • 1562 Obstacles Removed
    • 1204 Faith (4)
    • 1211 Faith Honored
  • Mark 12:29
    • The Great Commandment,  Mt 22:36
    • 1185 Hearken
    • 2649 One God, 1 Co 8:4
    • 4308 Tree of Jesus Life – 193
  • John 1:1
    • Chap. 1, The Divinity of Christ
    • 709 Christ Eternal, 8:58
    • 700 Christ the Word, 1:14
    • 3632 Christ’s Names
    • 702 Christ Divine (2), Ro 1:4
  • Acts 2:38
    • 2702 Repentance (2)
    • 2703 Repentance (3)
    • 756 Baptism Enjoined, 10:48
    • 2516 Wonderful Name
    • 3127 Remission of Sin, Ro 3:25
    • 1603 Spirit Promised
    • 3117 Salvation
  • 1 John 1:1
    • PP Lk 24:39
    • Experimental Knowledge (2)
    • 3855a Witnesses (2)
    • 700 Christ the Word Re 19:13
    • 709 Christ Eternal;


The ESV footnotes are included under the text. Footnotes include manuscript variations, alternate renderings, explanations for technical terms and difficult readings, explanations about the original languages, measures, etc. The footnotes are excellent for study and shedding light on the underlying text.

Comprehensive Bible Helps

The Comprehensive Bible helps section has seen a lot of improvements. It includes lots topical lists for study archaeological information, outlines, etc.

The major sections include:

  • Alphabetic Index – this is the renamed index which includes all of the topics found in the Thompson. It gives you a number, which you’ll take to the next section to find the references. The index is now complete and shows all of the verses (previous editions didn’t include those in bold).
  • Numerical Index of Chain Topics – this renamed index is the complete topical section of the Thompson. It contains chains that are printed out, chains with just references, and suggestions for related topics. This index now includes the complete listing of references. Topics now use consistent names. Numbers and headings are in bold so they stand out better. This is a great tool for topical study and is helpful for personal devotions, study, and sermon prep.
  • Outline Studies of the Bible – includes an overview of the modern Bible translations in English up to 1996. It has an overview outline of both testaments and an outline of each book of the Bible with an analysis and links to the topical chains.
  • Bible Character Studies – covers biographical sketches of the most prominent characters in the Bible. It includes historical information and topical links.
  • Bible Harmonies and Illustrated Studies – this section contains lots of charts such as life trees, pictorial maps, outlines, graphs, etc.
  • Archaeological Supplement – this section covers the places in the Bible and the archaeological information that has been discovered. This edition includes some revised artwork and photos of places and artifacts.
  • Hebrew Calendar – a table showing the names of the months in English, Jewish months, festivals, seasons, wind and weather, and state of the country.

All of the content is keyed to the topical system, including things that weren’t before, so some of the references in the margins point to these sections. The Comprehensive Bible Helps is an excellent tool for personal study, devotions, classroom, and sermon prep. The headings are bold so they’re much easier to read.

ESV Concordance

This edition includes the 120-page abridge ESV concordance. It has a two-column layout with larger print than many concordances. It’s easy to see and use and has quite a few entries. It’s an excellent study tool. Here are some sample entries with their number of references to help you compare:

  • Christ – 16
  • Christian – 2
  • Christs – 4
  • Faith – 31
  • Faithful – 11
  • Faithfulness – 7
  • Faithless – 1
  • God – 52
  • Godliness – 5
  • Godly – 3
  • Gods – 2
  • Praise – 21
  • Praised – 4
  • Praises – 3
  • Praising – 4
  • Pray – 10
  • Prayed – 3
  • Prayer – 11
  • Prayers – 6
  • Praying – 3


There are 14 full-color maps printed on thick non-glossy paper. They include borders, distance, rivers, seas, topography, and cities.

The maps include:

  1. Archaeological Sites in Palestine
  2. Archaeological Sites in the Bible Lands
  3. The Ancient World of the Patriarchs
  4. The Twelve Tribes in Canaan
  5. The Kingdom of David and Solomon
  6. The Divided Kingdom of Israel and Judah
  7. The Assyrian Empire / The Babylonian Empire
  8. Palestine in the Time of Our Saviour
  9. The City of Jerusalem in Old Testament Times
  10. The City of Jerusalem in New Testament Times
  11. Paul’s First and Second Missionary Journeys
  12. Paul’s Third and Fourth Missionary Journeys
  13. The Growth of the Christian Community First and Second Centuries
  14. The Holy Land Today

It includes a 12 page index to maps that show the maps in 6 divisions. I love this index and I’m glad to see it included in this edition. The divisions are:

  1. Archaeological Sites
  2. Biblical Names
  3. Cultural Features
  4. Points of Interest
  5. Land Features
  6. Water Features

The index is keyed to the maps using a grid system, making it easy to find any location quickly.


The Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible is the type of study Bible that I prefer – it provides tools to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture and help you do your own study. The ESV edition improves practically every point of the Thompson system. Every update that I wanted to see in the Thompson Chain Reference is in this edition. I am pleased with the updates and I want a KJV in this setting – complete with updates and paragraph format. We’ve waited a long time for the Thompson Chain Reference to be available in ESV. It was worth the wait. The Thompson Chain Reference ESV edition is easy to recommend and I can’t wait for the leather editions.

Watch for the comparison post coming soon.


Buy from (includes some affiliate links)


Nest Learning


and many local Bible bookstores


Photography by hannah C brown

Kirkbride provided this Bible free for review. I was not required to give a positive review – only an honest review. My opinions are my own.

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